Last week news was released on recent research that might change the way people think 6th century Britain following the discover by archaeologists of Britain’s first known 5th-Century mosaic at a Roman villa in Gloucestershire.
Radiocarbon dating revealed a mosaic at Chedworth was designed and created in the middle of that century. This shows sophisticated life continued within the mansion long after Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire.
Previously, it had been believed all Roman towns and villas were abandoned and fell into decay at the end of the 4th Century. However, charcoal and bone at Chedworth provided radiocarbon dates that show the recently-discovered mosaic must have been created after 424 AD.
Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest in the country and one of the best preserved, with 35 exposed rooms and significant features including fine mosaics.
The 5th Century is often referred to as ‘The Dark Ages’ following the Roman retreat in the preceding century.
Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest Roman villas known in the country and one of the best preserved, according to the National Trust.
After the end of Roman rule in Britain, the army and civil service workers stopped being paid, which in turn triggered “production decline” among the craft and service industries. The quality of the mosaic design possibly reflects this, as the National Trust said it was of “poorer quality” than those created in the 4th century
However, its existence also indicates that society did not decline as rapidly as first thought, and that “sophisticated life” carried on for longer, particularly in southwestern England where the mosaic was found. Perhaps it is no co-incidence that the likely origins of the noble and civilised King Arthur are from SW England.
Previously it was believed that most of the population turned to subsistence farming after the break with Rome as the country separated into various individual kingdoms.
The mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline. The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.
I’ve always been one to speak up for the lost kingdoms between the departure of the Romans and 1066AD and have never believed the Dark Ages to be as popularly imagined. The Anglo-Saxon Exhibition is great evidence of that.